Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas has been a leading lyric tenor in the big opera houses for more than two decades. Now in his early fifties the voice has darkened and the tone hardened slightly but he has retained his ability to sing softly and in a nuanced way. He was, to begin with, a bel canto
specialist and I treasure in particular the Naxos Barbiere
from 1992, where he was an excellent Almaviva. Not long ago I reviewed
an opera recital where he partly embarked upon heavier roles which seemed to overpower him, even though his admirable sensitivity for nuance saved many of them. This programme with Verdi songs is generally lighter than the opera programme and here are many lovely moments.
Verdi was no song composer but an opera practitioner who occasionally wrote songs that sometimes can be seen as try-outs for his opera arias. Interestingly it was a set of six songs that became Verdi’s first published works in 1838 (trs. 5 – 10) and a further set of six was published in 1845 (trs. 11 – 16). The first two songs (trs. 1 – 2) were composed in 1839, the year when Verdi’s first opera Oberto
was premiered. Il poveretto
(tr. 3) was published in 1847 and Stornello
(tr. 4) is from 1869. The final two songs belong to his church music. Tantum ergo
was written between 1828 and 1833, in other words it is teenage music, while Ave Maria
emanates from the other end of his career, 1880, and was originally written for soprano and string quartet.
with its long piano prelude is dramatic and requires heft and brilliance. Ramón Vargas provides both but he is more agreeable in the opening to La seduzione
, a finely shaded reading where he excels in honeyed pianissimo singing. The song itself is lovely in ¾ time. Il poveretto
is beautifully sung too, but Stornello,
possibly the best known of Verdi’s songs, was a disappointment. It is sung by the American soprano Joanna Parisi, who is squally and over-vibrant.
The six songs from 1838 are nice, and I am particularly fond of More, Elisa, lo stanco poeta
and In solitario stanza
, both of which could be arias from early Verdi operas. Here, and elsewhere too, Vargas reminds me, in both timbre and phrasing, of the late lamented Carlo Bergonzi. Nell’orror di notte oscura
is beautiful and intimate and is sung here with some lovely diminuendos.
I am afraid I find very little to admire in Joanna Parisi’s singing and it is comforting that she only sings four songs (trs. 4, 9, 12, 14). OK, she has some good ideas about interpretation and phrases quite sensitively at times but her squally sounds give very little enjoyment. Vargas sings tastefully and musically. Only in Il mistero
(tr. 15) does he press a little too much.
is youthfully exuberant but over the top, while the late Ave Maria
is sung with beautiful restraint. Charles Spencer’s accompaniments cannot be faulted but by and large the piano parts in Verdi’s songs are not very interesting in themselves.
Anyone wanting a collection of Verdi songs will have his/her fill of them here and with the reservations I have expressed the disc should be a valuable addition to anyone’s collection.